Saturday, September 3, 2011

Low Maintenance Plants for Southwestern Landscapes

A lot of people ask me about what plants they should put in their desert gardens that won't require a lot of work. Most people don't have time in their day and don't want to spend lots and lots of money on their property. Another question that comes to mind, "Is it possible?" The answer is yes. The trick to dealing with our desert garden is all about the soil, water, the intense summer sun in the afternoon, and the occasional freezing winter nights. There are certainly many plants that do well with very little maintenance, but not everyone is happy with those choices offered. Many people arrive in the desert from an area that is green and would love to have their grass lawns and maple tree. If you say "low maintenance", it means desert friendly or native, but it doesn't have to be the end of the world. My journeys this year into various gardens have led me to appreciate the beauty and lush natures of these desert paradises. Those gardens captured the same feel that I get when I go back home to visit family in Wisconsin. That's when I "got it". Traveling to Panama made me realize how much I missed the cacti landscape...and really how special and lucky we are to have these magnificent plants. Low on cash? Want something that will grow and not be a lot of work? Here is "the recommended list" for the Tucson and Phoenix areas. There are certainly more choices, but this post is already quite large:)
The Desert Willow is VERY low care
For trees. These trees are slow growing and require very little maintenance over the years. For the most part, once they're established, you can stick them into the ground and let them be. As they get several years older, a trim may be required but for the most part, they are not demanding at all and their limbs are strong. No need to worry about them breaking off during a storm. The Foothills Palo Verde,the Desert Willow, the Ironwood, and Palo Blanco are 4 excellent choices for your landscape. Why not the mesquite? While they're low maintenance on the watering schedule, their limbs tend to break off and if not properly placed into the ground, the tree can tip over during a wind storm. They require some reqular trimming. Remember, we're talking LOW maintenance.
Orange Bells....loved by hummers

For shrubs. There is the Baja Red Fairy Duster, Chaparral Sage, Orange Bells, Coral Fountains and Yellow or Mexican Bird of Paradise. Wildlife LOVE the flowers! Why not Texas Ranger? Well remember, LOW is the word we are using for this post. Texas Ranger will shoot volunteers up here and there in your garden AND need regular trimming.
Creeping Fig creeps up a palm
For vines. As a Tucson landscaper once told me, there are really 5 good vines that thrive in our landscape. Everything else acts more like an annual and those words of wisdom were true. Cat's Claw, Climbing Rose(Lady Banks), Trumpet vine, Creeping Fig and Confederate Jasmine are recommended. Others with a little bit of care are the Lilac, Pink Trumpet Vine and Queen's Wreath. Morning Glory will take over the world with some regular watering. BUT for LOW care, my recommendations are the infallible Lady Banks Rose(sun!) or Confederate Jasmine(slow but steady). Why not Cat's Claw? It's aggressive and requires regular trimming. It's invasive and might make you wish you never planted this vine into the ground.
Texas Ranger can be invasive! and requires occasional trimming.  This is a MEDIUM care plant for Tucson for that specific reason.
For ground covers, there is Damianita, Gazania, and Lantana. Sometimes you need to keep your eye on Lantana as it likes to volunteer around the Tucson garden and does require some trimming during the hot summer months. And during the winter months, these plants can look a little beat up if we have some hard freezes, but most of them will come back in spring.
With very little care, the Barrel Cactus makes a lovely structural plant in the landscape.
For cacti and succulents, there are a lot of choices!! However here are a few. There is Coral Aloe, the Golden Barrel Cactus, Red Yucca(infallible!!!), and several agave species. Why not the Prickly Pear? This cactus is like a weed here in Tucson and grows quickly. Pads will fall off and begin a new plant around your property. Most of these LOW maintenance plants are also slow growing that will take full sun and low water. Be careful with that last part. When I write LOW water, it doesn't translate to NO WATER. They will require occasional water during our hot summer months. June, September and October seem to be the months when I need to help them out the most when monsoon rains have ended and the heat is still strong. The rule especially applies to the shrubs and vines listed. This list is also inviting to our wildlife friends and you'll see it when you combine all these various plants together. Plan it out and make your own oasis!! So what plants would you recommend?  Of course, the more you plant.....:)
Plant native species and watch the wildlife flock to your space!


  1. I like that Desert Willow. I haven't seen one before. I don't mind growing that and the blue butterfly. Sooo... beautiful!

    1. I have the Desert Willow ♡
      And they are right not to worry about it ♡
      The bloom is AWEsome,
      This past Sat. 8th Feh 2019
      Did a radical Trim I am

  2. That Desert willow is Gorgeous .... and so is the butterfly of course!

  3. Love that desert willow. The leaves on it kind of look like oleander leaves...

  4. Lady Banks is one of my favorites. I once had some planted up under the eaves of my house and had to be careful that it didn't grow through the boards. As I got older and a little more unsteady on the ladder, I decided for my own safety I needed to take it out. At least that made it easier to clean the windows!


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